It doesn’t matter what sort of baker you are, you’ve probably made zucchini bread. It’s that quintessential August oven project that comes up every year when there’s more zucchini than you know what to do with. Not that it uses all that much zucchini; it doesn’t. But it’s the thought that counts for this late summer pastime: I have lots of zucchini, ergo I make zucchini bread.
It feels as if it’s a bit on same thread as carrot cake. It has carrots; it must be good for you? Well, thinking zucchini bread is really good for you (and, hey, it isn’t bad) is a skosh like believing a big bowl of high-fat vanilla ice cream topped with sliced strawberries is healthy. The strawberries–of course. The 3 scoops of vanilla ice cream, well….let’s say they do probably induce a bit of well-deserved euphoria and be done with it. And, so…the zucchini, yes, and the “bread,” well — —- maybe it’s a bit more like cake than bread and who says that’s troublesome? Let’s look at the ingredients in the recipe below. Hmm.
And I’m here to tell you, it just doesn’t matter. While zucchini bread isn’t the most healthful bread in the world (nor is it the worst), it always tastes good and fits in nearly anywhere. It might be the food memory — as in my mom’s Zucchini Bread–see recipe above and photo below. There’s a point in our lives when our recipe boxes or recipes themselves somehow begin to be part of our food heritage, our tasting memory, no matter what. Now it’s been years since I’ve put recipes onto cards (the internet has changed everything, hmm?), but I still have my boxes. Yes, more than one. And in them are the food (and other) memories from family and friends past and present. Those who have crossed the river…their recipes are in my boxes. Those who I visit a time or two a year or travel with every few years or lived next door to in 1985 — theirs are there, too.
And sometimes, those are the best memories. I might not even have a photo of someone I worked with who brought an incredible Chocolate-Date Nut Bread to every birthday pot luck when I worked at Woodlawn Plantation in Virginia. But I can make their bread, and maybe that’s even better. And when it comes to an immediate family member’s recipe, it is doubly precious as years go on–even if it’s only for zucchini bread. Our hearts are often in our stomachs, our loved ones recalled immediately in just one sweet wafting aroma.
WHERE’D THAT ZUCCHINI BREAD COME FROM IN GRANDMA’S RECIPE BOX? I’m not exactly sure how long zucchini bread has been around, but I first remember it as an older child in the ’60s. Certainly quick breads themselves weren’t baked before 1850 because that’s when chemical leaveners were invented — e.g. baking soda and baking powder. Zucchini, if I read the research right, wasn’t developed until mid-19th century in Italy, though squash itself was a South American crop and had been brought back to Europe where many varieties then developed. Zucchini later made an appearance stateside in the early 20th century with the coming of Italian immigrants. What comes around goes around. There’s no English word for the Italian “zucchini”….
WHAT ABOUT RECIPES? If you do a rough internet search for zucchini bread recipes, there are more than 93 million and many are quite similar to my mom’s — even those touted to be the “very best.” The differences appear to be in how much zucchini to use (and whether or not to squeeze it dry before using as some bakers like the extra liquid and some don’t), if there are spices besides cinnamon, and — oddly enough — the amount of salt. The run of the mill recipe makes 2 loaves, is made with vegetable oil instead of melted butter, has a walloping 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, one teaspoon of salt, and often includes a cup of nuts or raisins — which does increase the health and taste factors in my book. Looking through my own older cook books, I see recipes in James Beard’s famous BEARD ON BREAD (1973), in Marion Cunningham’s FANNY FARMER BAKING BOOK (1984), and in Julee Rosso’s and Sheila Lukin’s SILVER PALATE COOKBOOK (1979), but nothing before that. I did check a few even older books I had on hand like the HOUSEHOLD SEARCHLIGHT RECIPE BOOK (1934) and Lily Haxworth Wallace’s famous THE NEW AMERICAN COOKBOOK (1941) and found nada under “zucchini bread.” I will tell you that THE NEW AMERICAN COOKBOOK (1941) did have a Banana Bread recipe, but HOUSEHOLD SEARCHLIGHT (1934) did not–and I found that interesting. That zucchini bread developed from the idea of banana bread isn’t terribly far fetched. Someone, maybe a farm wife in some post-WWII kitchen somewhere, looking at a big basket of zucchini and wondering what they’d do with it most likely invented our happy summer baking project after checking their banana bread recipe and saying, “What have I got to lose?”
Check these out from back in the day:
I was interested to see that the Beard recipe above included a note about switching out a cup of the unbleached, all-purpose flour for whole wheat, which was what I decided to do before finding his recipe! 3 teaspoons of ground cinnamon in one loaf (9×5) is quite a bit of spice.
Older recipes of all sorts often have higher amounts salt than we use in today’s kitchens. Marion Cunningham’s recipe above for two 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2 – inch loaves contains a teaspoon and a half, which to my mind is still quite a bit, though I’d try it just to see. One newer recipe I found online called for only 1/4 teaspoon for two loaves of bread! The FANNY FARMER recipe is the only one I’ve seen that includes milk and also says not to squeeze the zucchini dry, which indicates a lot more moisture going into those loaves. It also says 2 cups of nuts–a lot. (Nuts do dry baked goods out a bit; I’ll give you that.) A note at the end indicates the baker may substitute carrots for the zucchini and calls for 2 teaspoons dried rosemary in that case. I’m liking that idea as I buy carrots 5 pounds at a time and sometimes have an abundance. One could even use half zucchini and half carrots, though what spices to choose at that point??? While I have a large number of baking books, I trust this one to be on the mark always.
THE SILVER PALATE recipe above holds interest as they’ve included a bit of butter and an entire teaspoon of ground cloves, which is so unusual that I may have to make this version! A little bit of cloves goes a long way in my baking experience. Over the many years I’ve cooked from this book, I’ve rarely been disappointed and these two authors changed the U.S. cookbook and food world in ways we’re still figuring out. Just in case you’re looking for something
new old from which to cook, try this one. I do, however, cut the salt on nearly every recipe–and I love salt and have low BP!
One of the things I like best about “tea breads,” from whichever recipe, is their obliging, adaptable nature. Tasty for breakfast, yummy with afternoon coffee, and good as a summer dinner side or even dessert if I’ve tossed in a handful each of tiny chocolate chips and coconut. Since they keep and travel perfectly (place back in the clean pan and wrap well), they’re also the perfect snack for school lunches, to take along in the car, and for picnics or camping trips. Almost any of them can be baked in muffin pans instead of loaf pans, though as one friend who’s a stellar cook once said to me with a twinkle in her eye, “Muffins are just an excuse to eat cake for breakfast.” I’m ok with that. You? Don’t forget the butter, though many people like cream cheese with zucchini bread. Did I mention tea breads freeze well?
What’s in your zucchini bread? I hope you’ll pull out that recipe soon while the squash is lush and fresh, often free, and the summer sun is still high in the sky because while you can make it anytime of year, zucchini bread is most precious right now. No recipe at your house? Try my mom’s, which with a few changes is now mine, too:
Grandma Mac’s Zucchini Bread (Updated)
- 2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour (Can sub another cup of unbleached, all-purpose flour.)
- 1 teaspoon EACH: salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon EACH: ground nutmeg and ground cloves-optional
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger-optional
- 3 large eggs, beaten
- 1 cup canola or vegetable oil
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
- 3 cups grated zucchini- lightly squeezed or patted dry*
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1 cup chopped nuts or raisins-or ½ cup each
- PREPARATION: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place rack at center. Grease and flour 2- 8 1/2” x 4 ½” x 2 ½” baking pans.
- MIX THE DRY INGREDIENTS: In a large bowl, stir together the dry ingredients: flours, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and spices. Set aside.
- MIX THE WET INGREDIENTS: In a large bowl or 8 cup measuring cup, whisk together the eggs, oil, sugar, zucchini, and vanilla.
- STIR THEM TOGETHER AND SPOON INTO PREPARED PANS: Pour the wet ingredients (eggs, etc.) into the dry ingredients (flours, etc.) and stir until just combined. Divide the batter evenly between the two greased and floured pans.
- BAKE and then COOL 5 MINUTES IN PANS: Bake for 50-55 minutes OR until loaves are golden brown and a skewer inserted into the center of each loaf comes out clean, rotating pans halfway through baking time. Begin checking for doneness at 45 minutes. Remove loaves from oven and cool in pans for 5-10 minutes. Turn out onto racks to cool completely before cutting—ideally after several hours. This bread is even better wrapped after cooling and stored overnight. It should keep for a few days like that, though if it’s terribly warm and humid, do stick it in the fridge after a day or so where it will keep for a week.
- Freezing: Wrap well in plastic wrap and then in foil before freezing for up to 3 months. Let thaw in wrapping completely before slicing.
OPTIONS: Add mini chocolate chips, coconut, lemon or orange zest, minced fresh mint, or extra nuts–even pistachios. Use dried diced cranberries, cherries, or apricots instead of raisins. Currants are another good substitution for raisins and are one of my favorite dried fruits. Skip canola if you don’t like it and use olive oil. Add applesauce in place of half of the oil for a lower fat and lower calorie loaf. Measure in almond extract and leave off the vanilla. Take out half of the granulated sugar and replace it with brown sugar.
Like muffins? Grease muffin pans really well, fill no more than 1/2 way full, and bake about 15 minutes at 400 degrees F or until just barely firm on top.
A NOTE ABOUT THOSE BIG OLD ZUCCHINI FOLKS LIKE TO GIVE YOU: Peel, cut it in half, and scoop out those seeds before grating the flesh of the squash. You can first boil (15 minutes) and then roast the seeds at 350 degrees F for about 15 minutes with salt or spices.
Extra grated zucchini can be used in lots ways — see my zucchini cakes below — but easiest is to just toss into nearly any soup or pasta sauce you’re making; it cooks almost instantly. It also makes a fine frittata (see below). I include a link below in the MORE INFO section about freezing grated zucchini.
MORE INFO THAN YOU WANTED:
LIFE GOES ON:
I’m glad you clicked on the blog today; it means a lot to me. While the heat is still with us (though some of our smoke has abated) and that makes baking a bit of a bother, I hope you’ll grab some zucchini and bake a couple of loaves. You can give one away or freeze it for Thanksgiving breakfast when it will seem the biggest treat! Be well,